Fredegond Cecily Shove (/
Early life and publication
Fredegond was the daughter of the legal historian Frederic William Maitland and his wife Florence Henrietta Fisher. Through her mother she was a cousin of Virginia Woolf and niece to the wife of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Her mother’s second marriage to Francis Darwin in 1913 also brought her in contact with his extended family. She attended Newnham College between 1910–13 and during that period also spent time in London with the Vaughan Williams. In 1915 she married the economist Gerald Shove who, like her own family, had links with the Bloomsbury group. Since he was a conscientious objector, and had to do farming as his alternative service, he worked at Garsington Manor near Oxford for most of 1916-17. The future Juliette Huxley, who was working there as a French tutor, later reminisced that "In those days … I saw a good deal of Fredegond Shove, Gerald’s wife, who lived like a Spartan at the Bailiff’s Cottage”. Their employer, Lady Ottoline Morrell, also remembered Fredegond then as “an enchanting creature, very sensitive, delicate and highly strung, with a fantastic imagination”.
In 1918, the Oxford publisher Benjamin Henry Blackwell brought out her first poetry collection, Dreams and Journeys, several poems from which were soon anthologised. One of those, “The Farmer 1917”, conjures an evocative rural scene surrounded by the anguish of war, which made it a candidate for The Paths of Glory (1919), a post-war anthology covering the broader field of poetry written during the period. Later it was reused in the anthologies Modern British Poetry (New York 1925), Twentieth Century Verse (Toronto 1945), Men who March away (London 1965) and the Penguin Book of World War 1 Poetry (2006). Another obliquely anti-war poem, “A man dreams that he is the creator”, had already appeared in Norman Angell’s pacifist monthly War and Peace before inclusion in Dreams and Journeys. The following year it was reprinted in the American anthology The Book of Modern British Verse (Boston, 1919) and translated by Rafael Cansinos-Asséns in the Hispano-American review Cervantes.
The most frequently commented on poem from Fredegond Shove’s collection, however, was “The New Ghost”, a mystical description of a departing soul being met by the Divine in a springtime setting, that is distinguished by its almost conversational rhythm. The poem was among four chosen for Georgian Poetry 1918–19 and in 1925 was set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams among his Four Poems by Fredegond Shove. In trying to typify the different trends in the poetry of the time, the introduction to An Anthology of Modern Verse (1921) cited this work as a sign “that something like a return to religion is in process”. For Robert Strachan in his Edinburgh lectures on contemporary writing it was “a very remarkable short poem...unique in modern poetry”, and Herbert Palmer too identified Fredegond as a religious poet on the strength of “The New Ghost” - “one of the best half dozen poems in the book”. It was also anthologised in The Golden Book of English Poetry 1870-1920, the Anglo-American Home Book of Modern Verse (New York 1925), the Oxford Book of Christian Verse (1940) and Twentieth Century Verse (Toronto 1945). So late as 1958, it was to reappear in another Anglo-American anthology, Modern Verse in English 1900-1950.
Her inclusion in Georgian Poetry as “the first, arguably token, woman” to appear in the series caused some ill will in the poetry politics of the time. She was preferred to other candidates being urged on the editor as more experienced and progressive, such as Charlotte Mew, Rose Macaulay and Edith Sitwell. Later critics have been unkind about Vaughan Williams’ use of her work too, speculating that he only set her poems because of their family relationship and describing her as “a wholly unexceptional poet”.
Nevertheless, for her the 1920s were a time of popularity and prosperity. Beside the anthology appearances already mentioned, a different selection of five poems appeared in Cambridge Poets 1914-1920, two poems in W H Davies’ anthology Shorter Lyrics of the Twentieth Century 1900-1922, and one in Eighty Poems: an anthology (1924). There was, however, one sad event at the start of this period, her mother’s death in 1920. Afterwards she became increasingly preoccupied with religion and was received into the Catholic Church two years later.
In 1922 Fredegond Shove’s second collection, Daybreak, was published by the Woolfs from their Hogarth Press, but there is no evidence that the 23 poems there made the same impact. Something is there of her earlier manner, which Harold Monro had characterised as “an uncanny sense of the reality beneath fact. Her subliminal is her actual existence.” It was for this quality that Byron Adams, commenting in more modern times on the religious aspects of her work, described her as a “minor symbolist”. Her spiritualised vision is typically manifested in “Revelation”:
Near as my hand
The transformation: (time to understand
Is long but never far,
As things desirèd are:)
No iceberg floating at the pole; no mark
Of glittering, perfect consciousness, nor dark
And mystic root of riddles; death nor birth,
Except of heart, when flesh is changed from earth
To heaven involved in it: not at all strange,
Not set beyond the common, human range;
Possible in the steep, quotidian stream,
Possible in a dream;
Achieved when all the energies are still –
Especially the will.
The tentative pointing to a reality underlying outward appearance described here has been cited by a later religious commentator as an example of the kind of mystical epiphany found “even in the most ordinary moments of life”.
Fredegond Shove’s only other book in her lifetime was her study of Christina Rossetti (Cambridge 1931). However, she continued to write poetry throughout her life, publishing selections from time to time. In Atalanta's Garland (1926) there are three poems. Lascelles Abercrombie, one of her associates from Georgian Poetry, asked for previously unpublished work to include in his anthology New English Poems in 1931 and the following year she was asked by Charles du Bos for poems to include in his Catholic review Vigile, for which he provided prose translations.
After her death in 1949, she was buried with her husband and other family members in the Ascension Parish Burial Ground in Cambridge. Her sister Ermengarde Maitland (1887 – 1968) then acted as her literary executor and had the poet's brief memoirs of her early years and married life privately published as Fredegond and Gerald Shove (1952). In the introduction to this volume she described sorting through the house and finding poems “everywhere: fairly copied in note-books, scribbled on bits of paper, stuffed into bookcases, cupboards and desks - one would not have been surprised to have found them in the oven - literally hundreds of poems".
A small selection of 32 poems was later published by Cambridge University Press in 1956. Included in this were some from her two earlier books, a few that had appeared in various places since, and more that were unpublished. In the prefatory note, Ermengarde summarised her sister’s account of the interior vision impelling her to write. “She told of her earliest sense of ‘the Almighty’s sheltering roof tree’, of the fear that came to her as she viewed this ‘secondary world’. ‘I was shocked and sickened at the ways of one world, whilst I clung, ever more secretly, to the faint legacy which the other had left me.’ She told also of that day at the age of fourteen ‘in the charity of the brown autumn sunlight, I felt myself to be one of those who must try to relate their experiences, and to whom experiences are scenes, colours and sounds always, rather than events or actions.’” It is as faithful a characterisation of her work as any.
- G. M. Miller, BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names (Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 135.
- Sophie Lord, “Fredegond Shove”, Modernist Archives
- Juliette Huxley, Leaves of the Tulip Tree, London 1986, quoted online
- Hilary Newman, “Virginia Woolf and Fredegond Shove: A Fluctuating Relationship”, in Virginia Woolf Bulletin 39, (2012), p.27
- Online archive
- poem 10
- Madrid, September 1919, p.73
- Dreams and Journeys p.37
- Sheet music
- The Soul of Modern Poetry (1922), pp.245-8
- Post-Victorian Poetry (1938), pp.277-8
- London 1922, p.326
- Edited by David Cecil and Allen Tate, p.345
- Contents list
- Encyclopaedia of British Women’s Writing, p.96
- Trevor Hold, Parry to Finzi: Twenty English Song-composers, Boydell Press 2002, p.118
- Simon Heffer, Vaughan Williams, London 2014
- “In a field” and “Song”
- “Song”, p.75
- Online archive
- Some Contemporary Poets, London 1920, p.179
- Byron Adams, "Scripture, Church and Culture: biblical texts in the works of Vaughan Williams", Vaughan Williams Studies, Cambridge University 1999
- Daybreak, p.12
- L. William Countryman, Living on the Border of the Holy, Morehouse Publishing 1999, p.8
- Excerpts at Google Books
- Atalanta’s Garland, being the Book of the Edinburgh University Women's Union, mentioned in the Charlotte Mew Chronology at Middlesex University
- Vigile 1/1932, Paris, pp.167-80
- “Preface: the Child and the Poet” in Gerald and Fredegond Shove, p.ix
- P*o*e*m*s by Fredegond Shove, pp.vii-viii